It's time to complete DeKalb Avenue

By Guest Columnist STEPHANIE STUCKEY, director of sustainability services at Southface Institute

Public spaces create a sense of place and belonging in a city.  Our streets, sidewalks, and greenspaces – and the neighborhood shops and restaurants along the way — are what connects neighbors to each other and builds community.  For too long, Atlanta’s shared spaces have been dominated by roads designed to move vehicular traffic quickly and massive heat islands of parking lots. Cars and asphalt jungles foster isolation, not togetherness.

Stephanie Stuckey at Southface

Stephanie Stuckey

Atlanta has a rare moment in time to change that. In 2015 and 2016, voters approved two programs, Renew Atlanta and the 1 percent sales tax known as TSPLOST, to invest in critical road, sidewalk, bridge, and other public works improvements. While the promised $940 million in projects has been cut by $410 million, there is still $530 million to rebuild not only the physical infrastructure of our city but also the social infrastructure. That’s what makes a city resilient — designing our public spaces in a way that fosters human interaction and cohesive communities.  The time to act is now if we want to do things differently.

DeKalb Avenue presents a great opportunity to re-think how our public domain is structured.  For too long, motorists have ignored the 45 mph speed limit and treated the road as a race track.  The statistics bear this out.  From 2009 to 2013, DeKalb Avenue saw almost 1,500 crashes and four fatalities — double the accident rate of other Atlanta streets.  These numbers can be greatly reduced when cars slow down and share the road.

Complete DeKalb Ave Coalition is a group of bicyclists and pedestrians with a vision to reclaim this heavily trafficked thoroughfare to create a livable community.  We aim to redesign DeKalb Avenue into a connector of businesses and neighborhoods that enables users of all ages and physical ability to safely navigate sidewalks, public transit, bike lanes and the roadway.  

DeKalb Avenue is unique in that it is relatively flat and easily navigable on bike, scooter, or foot. Moreover, it links four MARTA rail stations, making it an ideal route for the critical first-mile/last-mile connectivity to transit.  It is also wholly owned by the City of Atlanta with no competing jurisdictional priorities from the state or federal government.  And DeKalb Avenue connects 11 intown neighborhoods, making it an ideal test case for how streets can serve to connect people, not just move cars. 

Complete DeKalb. Ave Coalition

Stephanie Stuckey (with microphone) addresses supporters of Complete DeKalb Ave, a group that advocates for adding the components necessary to make the corridor safer for all modes of travel, not just vehicles. Credit: Kelly Jordan

In sum, DeKalb Avenue could be a showcase for Atlanta to demonstrate what is possible when we design our roads for safety, equity and mobility, with shared spaces for cyclists and pedestrians.

After three years of public meetings and strong support from the community, the promised complete streets upgrades have been slated for “design only.”  Not for construction.  However, DeKalb Avenue is still scheduled for repaving and re-striping, plus replacement of the reversible “suicide” lane with a center turn lane. City leaders could use this as an opportunity for a pilot program to paint bike lanes along portions of DeKalb Avenue and install small-scale, inexpensive traffic calming devices (such as ballards and parking stops) that can be tested, refined, and extended beyond the target area to meet more permanent needs. 

Focusing on areas like the stretch between Candler and Inman Park MARTA Stations, where the road is wider, would promote transit use and enhance the livability of the corridor by encouraging walking, biking, and socializing at the businesses along the way, such as Fox Brothers BBQ, A Cappella Books, and Proof Café.  Way-finding signs could be erected to direct people on foot and wheels to local restaurants, businesses, transit, and the Atlanta BeltLine.This would be a positive first step that could kick start more long-term changes, such as connection to the PATH Foundation’s bike trail at Rocky Ford Road.

This Sunday, DeKalb Avenue will temporarily close to car traffic for Atlanta Streets Alive’s cross-city event, which will highlight the longest route in the program’s history.  Complete DeKalb Ave advocates are planning placemaking activities to solicit feedback.  We invite the public to stop by and share your vision of what DeKalb Avenue can and should be. In addition, the coalition hosts a weekly Friday DeKalb Ave Commuter Ride that starts at 8:00 a.m. where the PATH meets at the bridge at Rocky Ford.  Please join us to experience the vital avenue as it is and imagine how could be.

This is a unique moment in time for DeKalb Avenue. Let’s not squander it.

Note to readers: Before joining Southface, Stephanie Stuckey worked with Bloomberg Philanthropies on their American Cities Climate Challenge; as chief resilience officer in the Atlanta mayor’s Office of Resilience; and with GreenLaw, a Georgia-based non-profit law firm that advocates for entities harmed by pollution.

 

DeKalb Avenue

Complete DeKalb Ave Coalition is working to develop a Complete Streets network along a corridor that links Atlanta and Decatur. Credit: Google Maps

 

5 replies
  1. Avatar
    Chad Polazzo says:

    Yay, Stephanie!

    Great work championing this cause. Car commuter trip time cannot be what drive this city's planning decisions.

    There's more to life than just being fast and making money and a smart re-design of a key intown street like Dekalb Avenue can show the rest of the world that Atlanta is not just a collection of suburbanites commuting into town.

    Change is hard but if we don't try to enact real change, then we'll get more of the same results and our neighborhoods will suffer for it.

    I will be there on Sunday for sure!Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Eleanor says:

    A few years ago I would have strongly agreed with Stephanie. Now however, Intown traffic has become so heavy that it drastically increases travel time and feeds frustration. Dense housing developments Are proliferating along streets that can't support the traffic. (Many of the units are high cost, further eroding housing affordability. )Years ago voters and politicians missed opportunities to build public transit that would reduce the need to use private vehicles. So further slowing traffic has become a daunting prospect. I am interested to hear how this could work for good within the current circumstances.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Avery Sanchez says:

    Somehow, there are some out there who don't believe that pedestrians, bicyclists, handicapped, and other road users matter. The only thing that matters to them is getting car drivers through quickly with no regard to making things safer via safer road design and slowing things down. Regretfully that myopia makes for a less livable AtlantaReport

    Reply

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